Christmas trip was a test for young horse

From our December 2012 issue

By Herman Cornelson – Swift Current, Sask.

I wintered at the Matador Ranch in 1949-‘50. I planned to spend Christmas at my parents’ place at Beaver Flat, about seven miles north and east of Waldeck, Sask., and near the South Saskatchewan River breaks.

The morning of Dec. 24, I saddled a mare named ‘Zip’. She was a young four-year-old, green broke, and owned by Jesse Perrin. She had been green broke in spring and then turned out into the hills for the summer. In fall, we brought her back in to ride for the winter.

I made the trip home and we had our small Christmas of three people. Quite a change from earlier years when nine of us children were home to celebrate Christmas. Now we had all left home and I was the only one to make it home for the day.

On Christmas day, about 4:30 p.m., I saddled Zip for the return ride back to the ranch. For the first 10 miles I rode through a farm district.

The sun set soon after I started the ride, but there was a sliver of moon in the southwest which kept me company for a few hours and then moved down to the horizon, lingered a while, then slipped away behind the hills and we were in darkness.

As I was riding along on a country road by the farms, the homes were all brightly lit up as families celebrated Christmas. None knew of the lone rider traveling by their farms on this cold night facing into the northwest wind.

I travelled west to about a mile from the Swift Current creek valley, and turned north for a number of miles to the farm of the Hermanson family.

Winds were calm

There was quite a lot of loose snow which covered the trail so it was difficult to stay on the trail and there was also ice under the snow in places.

We made it down to the river flat with only a few incidents. We now rode the river flat in a westerly direction. In the valley, the winds were calm. Any sounds could be heard for long distances.

After following the river for a number of miles we got to the mouth of the Swift Current creek which we had to cross, where it emptied into the river. In the dark I couldn’t find the crossing where we had crossed the day before from the opposite direction.

I picked a spot and rode onto the ice. After a few steps, Zip broke through. She panicked, got turned around, and scrambled out of the mess of ice. We were too close to the river.

When the creek froze over the water level had been high, then the water level dropped and froze another ice level. The first level was only a few inches thick and couldn’t carry the weight of a horse.

I rode upstream a ways and picked another place. Zip was still quite spooked and not to be fooled again. She had trusted me and I had let her down at the first spot.

Water caused ice to heave and drop

With patience I regained her trust again and coaxed her onto the ice. It held, and slowly she tiptoed across the creek. She climbed the bank on the opposite side and soon broke into her easy trot and we were once again on our way.

Travelling on the river ice can be spooky even in the daytime. The volume of water and strong currents under the ice cause it to heave and drop. When the ice cracks, it’s quite loud and the cracks run up and down the river for a quarter-mile and more.

We made it back to the ranch safely. The ride was a test for a young horse. It was 20-plus miles in winter conditions.

Zip indicated early that she was a special, intelligent, levelheaded horse. She developed into a top all-round cow horse.

These are good memories of my Christmas in December 1949.